Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Year Later... as Digital Learning Coach

So just over a year ago I began my new position as a K-12 digital learning coach for our small, rural school district.  We had been one to one for one year and noticed the need to have a support person to help teachers integrate technology and blend their instruction.

I've learned a lot over the past year and want to take a second to share the top 5 things I have learned.

1. The world is at your fingertips; go use it!
If your students haven't "hung out" with another classroom around the country or world, then they are missing out.  Beyond students covering content (our 6th graders presented about varied ecosystems with a class in Brazil), and engaging with an instantly-created authentic audience, they can help students learn about other cultures, areas, beliefs, and people.  And, that is something I think our world needs a little bit more of: empathy and understanding of those different than us.

2. Change is hard, but worth it.
With all the expectations placed upon teachers, sometimes technology can seem like "something else." I get that, but at the same time I see the unbelievable things that are happening in our school and around the world, and I want that for all of our students, including my own.  It is tough to put yourself out their and try something new that could fail when what you had before worked "just fine."  But that new thing might work even better.  I love the quote that if you've never failed, then you've never tried something new.  So true, and it is so worth it.

3. Get in the classrooms!
My favorite days are the days that I am in classrooms from the moment I get to school until the moment I leave.  I love supporting teachers trying something new, co-teaching a lesson, or teaching a lesson myself. Seeing ideas you developed with teachers in action will reignite your passion and keep you remembering what is is all about.  Plus then you can reflect and grow yourself.

4. Don't lose sight of what it is like to be a classroom teacher. 
It's easy to no longer be seen as a teacher as a coach, and as much as I don't want that, I think it naturally happens.  Being in the classrooms help, but remember the pressures you had in the classroom.  State test scores, evaluations, behavior problems, and so much more constantly affect teachers and their instruction. Remember what it is like to stand in front of 30 students and something fail. That is a true reason why some might be hesitant, so be there to support and help.

5. Don't take it personally.  
I'll be the first to admit that I need to work on this.  Just because someone doesn't try your idea, respond to your tech update email, or follow through on a project you on which you collaborated with them, you can't take it personally.  Remember #4, there's a lot of other stuff going on.  It's easy to think that it's you or your idea, but most of the time, that's not the case.  It's #4.

Overall, being a tech coach can be a really fun job.  I got to watch the face of a second grader the first time he programmed Dash as a reward for behavior.  I got to watch a group of high schoolers interact with people in Colombia about their cultural differences in Spanish.  I get to see a lot of the happy in rooms.

Being a tech coach can also be a tough job. Sometimes you feel like an island; fight that.  Sometimes you feel like nothing will work; fight that.  Sometimes you get overwhelmed that broken devices will rule your life instead of the instruction and curriculum you thought you signed up for.

It's okay. Remember the happy in the rooms, the smiles on faces, and the true learning you get to help create and support inside classrooms.  That's why you are there.

Easy Smartboard Activity Creation

Easy Smartboard Activity Creation
Created by Allison Schalk, Digital Learning Coach, Lanesville Community Schools

We have all had our Smartboards for a number of years, but I was guilty of pretty much using it as a way to take notes up on the board, circle different ideas, or have students mark over a website or document.  I really didn’t use the Smartboard a ton for everything of which it is truly capable.  So, here goes--how can I create my own Smartboard activity quickly, efficiently, and effectively? Keep in mind we have an outdated version of the software and old Smartboards, so it might vary for you.

  1. Open up Smart Notebook on your desktop.
  2. Add a couple pages because you can make more than one activity reviewing or reteaching the same skill and then save it for that skill or unit.
3. Click on the Gallery on the left side of the screen.  It looks like a picture frame.  
4. Then, click on ‘Lesson Toolkit.’
5. Then click on ‘Examples.’
6. Finally click on ‘Activities.’ To get them to show up, just click on the ‘Notebook Files and Pages’ in the blue bar.
7. Click on one and drag into onto your blank page.  You can also double click. I suggest with starting with ‘Category Sort Text.’
8. Click on ‘Edit’ in the upper left corner of the screen.
9. At this point, you can change the categories, create 3 columns, and mark your correct answers.  When you are finished, click ‘Okay.’
10. Then, save your Notebook.  File, save as. You can save the Smart Notebook directly into the file on your M drive for that unit or skill so you will always have it for reinforcing that skill or for the future.
11. If you want to make another one on a different page, just go to the next page and drag a new activity to it.  Click ‘edit’ and begin.  

For lower elementary, you might want to try any of the ‘Image’ premade activities.  Adding images to your activity is actually pretty quick and simple.  
  1. Drag over ‘Category Sort-Image’ or any image activity.  Click on ‘Edit’ and change your categories just like before.
  2. Now, click the ‘Maximize’ button (it actually will make it smaller if you are already maximized--it is the rectangle button in the top right.)
  3. Pull up a second window for a google image search.  Also make sure that is not full screen, so you can still kind of see both screens at the same time.  (You could split screen if you want.)
  4. Open your chosen image up, right click, save as.  It will download it onto your bottom downloads bar.
5. Find the image in the bottom downloads bar and drag it to the Smart Notebook.  Drop the image in the image box you want.  It will stay there once you drop it.
6. Continue to find, save, and drop images into the Smart Notebook until you have the number you want/need for that activity.  
TRY THIS: It doesn’t always work, but sometimes you can just drag the image directly from your Google Image search into the image box in Smart Notebook without having to save anything!
7. Save and you are ready to go!
There are TON of premade activity options ready for you to customize.  So easy, so effective!

Friday, July 8, 2016

To my former students, I owe you an apology...

After just one year of being a technology coach in my district, I look back at what I used to do in my classroom and think I could have done better.  Don't get me wrong; I always thought that--even from first period to second period.  I always thought eighth period probably got the best class period of the day because I had tweaked the lesson, the assignment, the instructions, my knowledge.  But this is different.  I really think I would be a much better teacher today than I was even a year ago in my middle and high school English classes just based on the experiences I have been afforded this year.

I used to do things I thought were innovative in my classroom; I really did think of myself as a good teacher.  We created podcasts on social issues as we were talking about author's purpose, research, and speaking and listening skills.  We presented proposals for funding research on genetic diseases to local and state politicians after a joint project with biology on genetics.  We created videogames to highlight didactic literature and universal themes present within The Pearl  and modern society.  We organized Lanesville Life Fest, a family festival that raised money for cancer research as we discussed business letter writing and research. I gave students choices on how they wanted to tackle a novel. I really did think I was doing a great job, but I know I could have done better, I should have done better.

Maybe it is the time I have been given this year to explore and learn and the ease you can get sucked into the bubble and routine of your classroom, but I was keeping my students from so many opportunities in the world.  Why didn't I connect them with classrooms around the globe?  Why didn't I fully embrace project-based learning and use those to drive instruction?  When I did, I saw just as much understanding and comprehension, if not more, so why did I only do it "sometimes?" Why didn't I put learning in the students hands and just support along the way? Why didn't I force them to think critically more--beyond critical thinking questions to a text? Why didn't I consistently bring in real-world problems for them to solve?

Looking back at my 10 years in the English classroom, my favorite units to teach were the ones that I supported while the students led.  My favorite units were the ones that students were constantly creating, not just consuming.  The ones that sometimes I looked around my room and thought Um... so what am I supposed to do right now because they were all actively engaged and on track.

So why didn't I do those all the time?  I don't know.

And that is why I owe my past students an apology.  I now know I could have done better.  And, now I will do better.  As much as reflection is a part of the learning process, teachers need to reflect as well.  For me it took getting out of my own classroom and my own head to see all the crazy-wonderful ideas out there at conferences or on Twitter.

No matter where my students are today, please take this message to heart: continue to learn, reflect, and grow.  It is through this process that we become the best version of ourselves, personally and professionally.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Don't Underestimate Him! Confessions of a Kindergarten Mom

So, my oldest son will be entering kindergarten this fall, and it has really gotten me thinking as I look at education and conferences like ISTE.  There are unbelievable teachers out there doing incredible things with their students, but sometimes it becomes very easy to dismiss ideas, pedagogy, and concepts as being "too advanced" or "too difficult" for the little ones. I have to say: they deserve better than that; my son deserves better than that.

So, true story.  A month before my son turned two we went to a local, minor league baseball game, and it started to rain and I mean... really rain.  My son turns to me in the stands as the rain starts to come down and say, "Mom, this is a deluge! You can't play baseball in a deluge." The person behind me had this audibly shocked reaction. I understand, but at the same time I don't.  That's just the way we talk to Gabe. We don't dummy it down and say, "oh, it's raining really, really, really hard;"; instead, we just use the actual word.

At his preschool awards, Gabe got the Scientific Knowledge Award; I know, totally not a huge deal.  But as the teacher spoke, I learned things I didn't know before.  When Gabe asks us a question about something, we find the real answer and share it with him.  I guess he had been imparting those tidbits of knowledge to his classmates and his teacher.  What is lightning?  Well, according to Gabe, lightning is electricity coming down from the clouds as the atoms move faster and faster and hit together.

I don't give these examples to say that Gabe is an anomaly and is super bright (although I am his mom, so mom perspective always makes your kid number 1).  I say this because far too often I see teachers, administrators, and stakeholders underestimating the abilities of primary students.

Talk to them with the real words, the real language we use.  Let them explore their questions and find the true answers.  Lightning isn't magic in the sky as one of my good friends who is a science teachers said, so why let them think that? Their brains are sponges; if you share, show, nurture, and guide, even our little ones are capable of so much more than we so often give them credit for.

Don't stifle their creativity or their quest for knowledge; feed that thirst and let it grow.  It made me more sad than words could ever describe when my son came home from preschool in January to tell me that he was "so bored." I know he loves learning and he love sharing his knowledge with those around him, so this broke my heart.

Bottom line: don't underestimate the little ones.  Please tell my kid the real reason for something and let him show you he can understand it.  Please teach my kid the precise word and don't let him heehaw around it with a ton of verys or reallys.  Please let my kid create and show you what he knows and what he can do.

I promise that if we don't underestimate our primary kiddos, we will see unbelievable learning taking place.
Don't underestimate them; they deserve better!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

FLO-CAB: I'm gonna be there, rocking harder than your grandma's chair!

So first off, if you got the grandma's chair reference, than maybe you are like me: you've been using Flocab since it was the maroon, SAT vocab book with the CD in the front cover.  Yup, it's true. However, I am beyond excited for how Flocab has changed since I got my hands on that first book 10 years ago, and I'll be sharing some of the ways we use Flocab in our school throughout my time at ISTE at the Flocab booth, 920!

Monday: 12:15-12:30 : Fitting in the K-12 Curriculum
Join myself and 2 other teachers talk about how you can easily integrate Flocab into your already-created curriculum and infuse it with your standards.  Flocab isn't an additional thing; it's a integrated thing!

Tuesday: 1:45-2:00: What is Flocab?
Check out as we talk about the basics of Flocab including how to find the resources within the website, both digital and print.  We'll tour the site and show easy ways to utilize Flocab during all stages of instruction!

Wednesday: 9:45-10:00: Flipped Classrooms and Flocab (Working It in a 1:1 Setting)
Looking at a school or corporation subscription?  We will take a look at the class features and how teachers can get feedback from Flocab to help inform teaching and instruction within the classroom. We'll also talk about how you can use Flocab during different phases of instruction and even how great Flocab is for digital learning days!